Ros Rants: Are TV chefs doing more harm than good?

Food programmes are here to stay. Everyone enjoys the entertainment value of watching people cook, and the figures can prove it. 7.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the Great British Chefs final last year and 3.3 million viewers watched the MasterChef final this year. While I can appreciate the inspiration these shows bring to those looking to cook at home, I do have a bit of a rant on the role that chefs play in doing television programmes.

We are told that the great British public also love buying cookery books as they are great to own and look at. In 2017, 8.7 million food and drink books were sold and of them, almost 500,000 copies belonged to Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients- Quick & Easy Food. While these are some very big numbers, the burning question is whether people actually use them!

At Cookery School, we don’t use jargon of ‘cheffy’ techniques and don’t believe you need them to be a good cook. I think that TV chefs are responsible for putting more people off cooking than onto it. Why do chefs have to fry off? Cook off? Bake off? Cook down? Wipe down? Cut up?  So much rubbish is spoken about food that is off-putting, too – chef jargon to which ordinary folk do not relate. I do believe that Jamie Oliver has had a positive effect, as he is relaxed and enabling.

While my mother and grandmother were both wonderful cooks, they had no knife skills as we know them. They simply used a knife to cut up what they were cooking without a fuss. They did not even own a huge range of different knives for different jobs, such as a paring knife for chopping and peeling fruit and veg or a ‘special’ serrated knife just to cut tomatoes!

When watching a cooking show and seeing how a chef chops an onion, for example, it can make the viewer feel they lack competence with a knife and therefore think they cannot cook! Nigella Lawson has said herself that she has no knife skills to write home about and her food looks (and tastes) fab!

Chefs no doubt have a role to play for those that are food lovers and possibly decent cooks already, but I do not believe that anyone intimidated by cooking is likely to become a convert by watching a chef on television doing their thing.

Home cooking is about the most important education that could be offered today. It has died out because it is no longer taught as a pure cooking subject in schools; passing recipes and cooking skills down through the generations no longer happens and with the death of learning to cook, we are offered the easy and lazy choice of ready meals – laden with sugar and salt and bad fats – that are causing the splurge in obesity, heart and other diseases.

I would like ordinary people that would love to learn to cook straightforward food easily know that Cookery School at Little Portland Street is on their side! Bring back good, easy home cooking onto our television screens…

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